Robin Williams didn’t die from suicide. I only just heard the sad, sad news of Robin Williams’s death. My wife sent me a message to tell me he had died, and, when I asked her what he died from, she told me something that nobody in the news seems to be talking about.
When people die from cancer, their cause of death can be various horrible things – seizure, stroke, pneumonia – and when someone dies after battling cancer, and people ask “How did they die?”, you never hear anyone say “pulmonary embolism”, the answer is always “cancer”. A Pulmonary Embolism can be the final cause of death with some cancers, but when a friend of mine died from cancer, he died from cancer. That was it. And when I asked my wife what Robin Williams died from, she, very wisely, replied “Depression”.
The word “suicide” gives many people the impression that “it was his own decision,” or “he chose to die, whereas most people with cancer fight to live.” And, because Depression is still such a misunderstood condition, you can hardly blame people for not really understanding. Just a quick search on Twitter will show how many people have little sympathy for those who commit suicide…
But, just as a Pulmonary Embolism is a fatal symptom of cancer, suicide is a fatal symptom of Depression. Depression is an illness, not a choice of lifestyle. You can’t just “cheer up” with depression, just as you can’t choose not to have cancer. When someone commits suicide as a result of Depression, they die from Depression – an illness that kills millions each year. It is hard to know exactly how many people actually die from Depression each year because the figures and statistics only seem to show how many people die from “suicide” each year (and you don’t necessarily have to suffer Depression to commit suicide, it’s usually just implied). But considering that one person commits suicide every 14 minutes in the US alone, we clearly need to do more to battle this illness, and the stigmas that continue to surround it. Perhaps Depression might lose some its “it was his own fault” stigma, if we start focussing on the illness, rather than the symptom. Robin Williams didn’t die from suicide. He died from Depression*. It wasn’t his choice to suffer that.
wow I didn’t know fuckin chocolate eggs were gendered
OKAY LET ME TELL YOU A STORY ABOUT THE FUCKING PINK EGGS.
I work at a concession stand in an ice rink. We sell a bunch of chocolate bars and snacks and shit including Kinder Surprise eggs.
So one day this woman comes up to the counter with her two little kids, a girl who’s probably about 6 or 7 and a little boy, maybe 3 or 4. The mom asks what they want, the little girl points at the Kinder eggs and says “One of those!”. I asked if she wanted the white or the pink egg. She said pink. The little boy pointed to the Kinder eggs and says “One of those!”. I asked if he wanted the white or the pink egg. He said pink. HOLY SHIT IT WAS LIKE I OPENED THE GATES OF HELL. The mom absolutely FLIPPED and was like “YOU ARE NOT GETTING THE PINK EGG IT’S ONLY FOR GIRLS. YOU CAN GET THE WHITE ONE OR NOTHING AT ALL”. The little boy looked at his mom and said “But I want the same as ______ (whatever the sister’s name was)”. The mom completely ignored him and turned to me and gave me a death glare. “He can have the white egg.”
I had to give a little boy a white egg when he wanted the pink so that he could be the same as his big sister and he started crying. The mom just reiterated that the pink egg was for girls and told him that boys don’t cry.
And this is why we shouldn’t gender fucking chocolate eggs.
This is actually a relatively new thing, originally Kinder Eggs were all white like the ones on the left. I don’t know at what point they decided to make ‘girl’s’ Kinder Eggs, but I do not like it.
Holy shit do not even get me started on how moms constantly police their sons’ masculinity. I’ve seen mothers do it WAY more often than fathers.
I used to work at a bakery that specialized in creating custom cakes. We had this feature where we could print out any image off the computer and put it on a cake (with rice paper). One day this lady comes in and asks for an image we had of the baby Sesame Street characters. They’re all together with cake and confetti, and she asks, “Oh, well since it’s a boy, can you please change all of the little pink confettis into blue confetti? I mean, he’s a boy, you know.”
The fucking confetti.
It barely covered 5% of the image.
Another instance was when a lady asked me for an image of four superheroes to put on her son’s cake because her son was turning four. She admitted to not knowing any superheroes, so I offered the most obvious choice—The Fantastic Four. I pulled up a picture of them and she goes, “Oh no no, we can’t have that. Let’s do another one.” Confused, I pulled up a Justice League one with Batman, Superman, The Flash, and Wonder Woman. Again, she said no. I asked her if she needed anything specific (she didn’t know superheroes, why was she so picky?), and she just said, “Oh, it’s just that he’s a boy, you know? We can’t have a girl superhero on his cake.”
I nearly lost my shit. I did temporarily lose my customer service face and ask why, women have been superheroes all the time, Wonder Woman is iconic, etc etc and she was like, “It’s just that my son has been playing with Barbie dolls lately and I really don’t want him to end up… well, you know.”
This shit has got to stop. When you teach boys that certain things are only for girls, you’re limiting them and you’re teaching them that girls or “girly things” are bad. If you want gender equality as an adult, you better make DAMN sure that you’re teaching the same thing to your kids.
So this woman did not want her son to turn out ‘you know’ and her plan for that was to get him a cake with spandex-clad manly men AND ONLY MEN on it? I don’t think she thought that one through too well…
In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
The list should also include: Loves and Hates.
And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.
Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”
Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The
mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”
Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”
In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”
Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.
If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.
Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.
Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”
Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.
Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.
For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”
A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”
A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.
Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.
No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”
Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”
Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.
Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.
Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.
And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”
“Ann has blue eyes.”
“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”
Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.
And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”
Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.
For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.
Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.
“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”
“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”
“Larry knew he was a dead man…”
Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.